While the season started off rough for the Tribe defensively, coming in about league average according to fangraphs, a few mid-season additions completely turned things around and they finished third in the AL in defense. While a team can be good defensively just by making all the routine plays, it is the excellent that sets them apart from the crowd. The following list of the top defensive plays for the 2017 season includes both great feats of athleticism and some aggressive plays that became the standard for the Tribe as the defense improved throughout the season.
Because there were so many incredible plays this year (we went back and looked over 82 separate plays to compile this list) we’ll start with the five that almost made it, but weren’t quite good enough. Click the link to see the play.
15. August 27th – Bradley Zimmer throws out Mauer at home on double off wall
14. August 6th – Jose Ramirez bare hand grab and throw vs New York
13. May 22nd – Carlos Santana (RF) makes five star catch and turns it into a double play
12. August 9th – Carlos Santana (1B) makes full extension dive to rob a hit
11. September 14th – Yan Gomes grabs swinging bunt and nabs runner at third
10. August 25th – Mini Me Goes Up the Middle
Jose Ramirez may have been more valuable at the plate than the field this year, but the fact that he had two of the Indians top 15 plays this year and both were at different positions is pretty incredible on it’s own (although Carlos Santana can also make the same claim). On this one, Ramirez was playing second when he made a wide ranging play to dive up the middle and rob Salvador Perez of a hit.
9. July 8th – Hacky Sack Hero
At the risk of prejudging, Mike Clevinger looks like the kind of guy who excelled at hacky sack in high school. On this play and another two starts later on July 18th, he got his body into the act, deflecting a line drive before picking it up and tossing to first for an out.
8. June 9th – Zim Zim You’re Out
When you have a runner on second and the batter hits a soft single up the middle, he generally scores easily with the throw going to second to make sure no one advances. Not any more with Bradley Zimmer. On this play, he grabbed Avasail Garcia’s single up the middle and fired home to nail Melky Cabrera just before he reached home. This was fairly common for Zimmer this year and ten days later he did it again making the hardest throw for an outfield assist on the year.
7. August 25th – Mr. Smile goes Mr. Glove
The second play from this game against Kansas City and the second robbing of Melky Cabrera, Francisco Lindor ranged far to his left, flipped straight from his glove to Ramirez for one and Ramirez hurled it to Santana for the second out, just a moment before Cabrera reached first. Instead of first and third with one out, the inning ended and eventually the Indians would win the second game of what would become 22 straight.
6. July 25th – Man Without Ankles Makes Running, Diving Catch
For all you hear about Michael Brantley not being able to walk and his defense being terrible, here’s at least one play that seems to defy everything. Statcast says that there was only a 7% chance of this ball being caught and your eyes don’t lie either as Brantley ran full speed, then dove all out to rob a double.
5. August 4th – Gio Goes Home
In the intro, I mentioned two things about the Indians defense. The first was that they made a couple of additions that made a drastic difference and the second was that they were incredibly aggressive. Urshela was half of the two big additions and this play exemplifies the aggressiveness. He made a difficult, quick reaction catch, then instead of throwing to first, went home with the throw where Roberto Perez was able to make the tag and save a run.
4. July 1st Game 2 – Just Call Him Superman
There are two catches in the video above, but the one that ranks #4 on this list is the second, which came in game two against Detroit. Both catches were incredibly impressive, however, and easily could have saved triples in Comerica’s spacious outfield. Of course, Zimmer was the second of the two defensive improvements, finishing the year first among AL center fielders in runs saved with his arm and fifth in overall UZR despite missing the first two months of the season.
3. July 17th – Silly Josh Tomlin, Bunts are for Urshela
There were two mistakes on this play. First, Giants pitcher Matt Moore thought he could sacrifice bunt against Giovanny Urshela. Second, Josh Tomlin agreed with him. Instead, Urshela ran in front of Tomlin and threw to second instead of first. Lindor then completed the double play to Ramirez at first showing that even pitchers shouldn’t bunt. At least not against the Indians infield. This play also is reminiscent of one of the top offensive plays of the year from August 21st when the Red Sox tried to make a similar play on a Brandon Guyer sac bunt, but ended up allowing the Indians to score the winning run on an error. There should be a lesson for them as well in this. If everyone could do it, it wouldn’t be special.
2. August 26th – The Machine Turns Lo Cain into Novacaine
Another great play from player’s weekend, this Zimmer catch is similar, but even more impressive than the #4 play as he just barely snares the Lorenzo Cain line drive. With a runner on first and two outs, if this ball had dropped it easily would have meant the go ahead run would have scored and Cain would likely have been at third. Instead, the inning ended and the Indians won their third of 22 straight.
1. August 1st – Old Man Sacrifices Body to Ruin Red Sox Day
You all knew this was coming. It may have not been the most difficult catch of the season, but it was the most impressive and as Matt Underwood said in the clip, “it just might be the play of the year.” If it weren’t for the odd shape of Fenway Park, this play couldn’t have happened, but everything aligned perfectly. Jackson perfectly timed his run to reach the wall just as the ball did and he caught it as his momentum carried him into the bullpen. While the Red Sox challenged the call, replay could only confirm how awesome Austin Jackson was on this play.